Let Love Fill You With Christmas Joy This Year

Here we are, just about a week away from Christmas. Dreams of mistletoe and presents tickle the mind as wafting smells of Christmas baking and sounds of holiday singing mingle through the air. The thought of a couple days off from work build with excitement as plans to head home for the holidays receive their final instruction.

For some however, in fact, most, there can be some anxious thoughts surrounding the holidays as well. While this might not be the case for everyone, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all experience a degree of anxiety when approaching the many family reunions around Christmas time. Because of this, it can be hard to feel the joy of the season; to rejoice as the shepherds did with great delight when the very first Christmas had finally arrived.

As we search for and try to maintain the essence of joy this holiday season, we would be wise to consider the role that love plays in bringing about such season’s greetings. In order to address love as a means of Christmas joy, we must look at Love itself and His first appearance on that oh so holy night.

Based on the December 13, 2018 article by David Mathis, here are three truths to keep in mind this Christmas season.

the first Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-7 says that Christ, ‘being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.’

We don’t often consider this passage as one to be read during the holidays, but Philippians 2:6-7 is probably one of the most ‘Christmas-y’ passages in the Bible. Not only is this an account of Jesus’ birth, thus reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, but it also gives us a look at the heart behind Christmas; at the actual essence of that which we are celebrating.

It was not Christ’s impulse to maintain his own rights and privileges as God that brought about the first Christmas, but rather it was His humbled mindset to inconvenience himself and sacrifice his own comfort for the greater gain of mankind (David Mathis).

Instead of grasping for privilege, Christ emptied himself of his own rights.

Therefore, if we are to be of the same ‘mind’ or ‘disposition’ as Christ, we must start by ‘looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4-5).

The call to love begins here, for love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5), but desires to serve, love, and benefit those around them. This kind of love then, when grounded in Christ Jesus who is the true centerfold of Christmas, is displayed in us when we get outside of our own interests, comforts, desires, frustrations, rights, and/or preferences and look beyond ourselves to the interests of others, thus sparking the truest kind of Christmas joy in our hearts.

spend and be spent…joyfully.

2 Corinthians 12:15 says that ‘I [Paul] will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?’

In this passage and in his ministry to the people of Corinth, Paul is gladly displaying his love for them by spending and being spent on their behalf.

Do you ever feel spent? Do the holidays leave you feeling utterly exhausted and in need of a vacation from your vacation? Are there times when you wonder if it is all truly worth it; worth the stress, the exhaustion, the irritation, the effort…?

Such feelings of exhaustion and ‘being spent’ are in fact precious in God’s sight and honoring to Him as we image forth His Son, but only when we do so out of a strength and love grounded in Him. It is when we start serving and striving out of our own strength and for our own self-glorification that we draw the attention away from Christ and dishonor Him.

If we look not only at Paul’s ministry, but at the ministry of Christ as well which Paul was imitating, we see such an example of how we are to embrace costly and inconvenient personal losses of time, energy, attention, possessions, money, comfort, and peace of mind for the sake of others. We can only do this well and in a way that pleases the Lord if we do so out of a deep love for Him and an understanding of His sufficient love for us.

This made me think of an article by Bonnie McKernan that reminds us of what it means to look like Christ. ‘It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than to Christ…’ all of this to the glory of Christ and for the benefit of those around us, including those that are hard to love.

As we look to the glory of God and the interests of others, we imitate the humility of Christ, which in infinite wisdom and love, was displayed for us on the very first Christmas. As we gladly spend and be spent for others, we can remind ourselves of the truth and encouraging words found in Acts 20:35 – ‘for it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

remember your great and eternal possession

Hebrews 10:34 says that ‘we know that we ourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.’ Abiding in this passage is synonymous with ‘lasting’ or ‘eternal.’

When God is our heavenly treasure, the foundation on which our ‘right’ as His sons and daughters rest; when our source of love, energy, compassion, provision, comfort, and peace of mind are in Him, our wells will never run dry and we will be enabled to love without fearing being loved any less, because His love is perfect, unfailing, and sufficient (Jeremiah 31:3, 1 John 3:1).

So often the reason we fail to love others well is because we feel violated in some way; we feel wronged, misjudged, unfairly critiqued, and the victim of malicious intent. However, when we boil these feelings down to their truest belief, what we will often find is fear. We fear exposure. We fear being loved less because of what someone might rightly or wrongly believe about us. We fear the pain of feeling like a failure or a disappointment, and we fear humiliation.

There is no fear in love though, because perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). And there is no love that is perfect apart from the love of Christ Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself on our behalf by taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of man.

When our love for others is found in, grounded upon, and sustained by the love we receive from the Father, we will be enabled and strengthened to endure beyond the point where we’ve just about had enough, and love others from a place of true Christmas joy.

A Prayer for the Expectant Heart

Thank you God for not placing expectations on me.

Thank you for dying on the cross so that I would no longer have to live under the law of this world, but rather under the law of grace.

Thank you for allowing me a life where I can live in full expectancy of seeing new mercies every morning.

Open my eyes to the expectations that I place on others that surpass reason; where the ideal exceeds reality.

Show me how I am placing unreasonable and selfish expectations on my loved ones to satisfy any void that only you can fill.

When I seek affirmation, remind me that it is only you O’ God that upholds and affirms me.

  • My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:8).
  • Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds the righteous (Psalm 37:17).
  • In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever (Psalm 41:12).
  • The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14).

When I seek happiness, remind me that it is the joy of your name that strengthens me.

  • Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
  • The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song (Psalm 28:7).
  • When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul (Psalm 94:19).
  • Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as your trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

When I seek approval, remind me that it is only for you that I live, that you O’ God may be praised and I unnoticed.

  • For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
  • For in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

When I seek fulfillment, remind me that you are the God who fills all things in every way.

  • …the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23).
  • I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).
  • It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  • For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:9-10).

Bless me with unmeasurable grace towards others, that I might not place unrealistic expectations on them, but extend the same love and grace that you have shown me.

May my contentment come entirely from your promises and truths, O’ God.

Help me recognize the plank in my own eye before addressing the speck in another’s eye (Matthew 7:3).

Give me grace to live in expectancy rather than expectation; to respond to others in love rather than place responsibility on them, that we may not be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8).

May I be a vessel of love and grace rather than expectations and responsibilities.

May it be so – Amen.

The Road to Emmaus

Sometimes I really miss the old flip phones.

They were so much simpler than the iPhone; offering a lot less distraction and time wasted sifting through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

My favorite part about the flip phone though is that whenever I was frustrated at the end of a call, I could dramatically slam my phone shut.

Seriously, I know I’m not the only one who found that incredibly satisfying.

Furiously pushing a button on a touchscreen just isn’t the same.

This is how I felt that day after getting her voicemail for the third time in a row. I had a few spare moments in my day and desperately needed to talk to my friend and get her advice on something that had be plaguing my thoughts all day long.

I just needed to talk.

I needed to vent.

I needed wise counsel, guidance, and a listening ear.

Yet all I got was her voicemail…over and over again.

I wonder if this is how the two disciples in Luke 24:13-35 felt.

The events of recent days past must have been plaguing their thoughts, dreams, and memories. They had just seen their Teacher, their Master, their Lord, and their friend murdered.

Beaten before their very eyes.

Hung from the cross like a criminal they knew he wasn’t.

Helplessly standing by.

Afraid.

Unsure of what the next couple of days, weeks, months, or years held for them in this disrupted, corrupt, and divided land.

Can you imagine the amount of grief, confusion, questioning, and venting they needed to get off of their chests?

Thus we find them; these two disciples of Jesus walking down the road to Emmaus.

Verse 14 describes them as being deep in conversation with each other; discussing all that had happened.

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:15-16).

I think it’s easy for us to read this passage and think to ourselves, “well gosh, how did they not even recognize Jesus? How, if they had spent so much time with him, did they not know his face?”

How, if we have Jesus living and breathing in and through us, do we not recognize His voice?

Consider that.

Consider how many times we, with all good intentions, seek the godly wisdom of others before Wisdom itself?

I will be the first to admit that I do this all the time.

In fact, I did this just the other day.

With confusion and uncertainty looming in front of me, rather than going straight to the only One who could offer any kind of consultation or understanding, I desperately grasped for the advice of others.

Now don’t get me wrong – God puts amazing, wonderful, and very wise people in our lives for this very purpose – to receive wise counsel.

He even instructs us on the importance of seeking this wise counsel on many different occasions (Proverbs 12:15, 11:14, 19:20-21, 15:22) (2 Timothy 3:16).

So I am not saying that seeking the advice, guidance, and wisdom of others is not important.

It is very important, but even the most important things can be misprioritized.

We live in a day and age where constant input is the norm. We are persistently feeding our minds with discussion, news feeds, music, podcasts, information, and the opinions of others that we are often kept from recognizing the voice of Jesus.

Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, even though the input they sought from each other as trusted friends was good, it was noise nonetheless.

It’s not just that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, they were actually kept from recognizing him; meaning there was something actually hindering their ability to hear the voice of their Teacher.

We often get so distracted and so hung up on getting the advice of others; on hearing their opinion and what they would do in our certain set of circumstances that we end up preventing ourselves from hearing the still, small voice of Jesus.

We end up filling our hearts and minds with others’ interpretation of who God is rather than seeking to know God for ourselves.

When we constantly subject ourselves to these outside sources, two things happen:

  1. Our minds become numb; and
  2. We override our ability to be still.

We lose the ability to really listen to what we are taking in and truly digest it and understand it. The voice of God can so easily slip into the background; into the mix of input that we are constantly feeding our minds that we either mistake other voices for that of God’s or miss God’s voice altogether.

We become numb to the awesome and very distinguishable power of His voice while we quickly lose our ability to quiet our thoughts long enough to hear Him.

It wasn’t until these disciples were in communion with Christ; until the bread was broken and the wine passed around, that their eyes were opened (Luke 24:30-31).

This isn’t to say that we necessarily need to partake in eating the bread and drinking the wine to hear God’s voice – though that is a sure way to cleanse the heart and soul.

This is more to say that we need to seek communion with Christ; intimacy, relationship, and time of one-on-one union with Him to train our thoughts to dwell on His still, small voice.

Daily intimacy with Jesus Christ, seeking His guidance and His direction above and before all else, is the first and only true way to cultivate a spirit after God’s own heart.

This We Know

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

How often do we say this and actually believe it, or act on it for that matter?

We like to think that our hearts are content in all circumstances, but when push comes to shove, we find ourselves striving harder and harder towards fantasies of satisfaction.

Why is this?

Why is being content so hard?

Why does even the mention of that word cause a collective sigh of frustration?

I remember in late High School or early college working my regular night shift at Perkins Bakery. I was in the back baking up some pies while listening to the radio like usual when the song Overwhelmed by Big Daddy Weave came on.

I had heard this tune before so I didn’t really pay much attention to it until the lyrics began to pull me out of my distracted thoughts.

 

I hear the sound of Your Voice

All at once it’s a gentle and thundering noise, oh God

All that You are is so overwhelming

 

I delight myself in You

Captivated by Your beauty

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

 

God I run into Your arms

Unashamed because of mercy

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

 

It hit me. It was more than just head knowledge this time, it was a true, deep-rooted belief in my heart – I. Am. Content.

I was content right then and there, in the Perkins Bakery covered with flour. I was content and fulfilled with all that Jesus was in my life.

I was content with simply knowing Him and seeing a future with only Him in it.

Contentment is hard though. One minute it’s there and you’re happy with life – where you’re at, who you’re with, and where you’re headed.

Then out of nowhere something changes and suddenly what you were aiming for and patiently (or anxiously) waiting for is gone; replaced by something different and often times not what you were hoping for.

Contentment is pretty hard to maintain, but perhaps that’s because it is dependent upon things that are ever-changing.

In order to be content in all circumstances we need to find our contentment in the One who is consistent in all circumstances.

A couple of weeks after this ‘ah-ha’ moment, a friend of mine started dating this guy she had been talking to for a while. It was cute and all, but gosh – I wanted that too!

And wouldn’t you know it, my contentment somehow shifted from the all-sufficient God to an ‘ideal love story’ I was certain was just around the corner.

*insert exasperated sigh*

I told God that I was content in Him, but not in Him alone. Sure, I could be content with God for now, but eventually the thing that I really wanted would come and only then would I be fully, completely satisfied.

Jesus was enough…but only for now.

It wasn’t until about a week ago though that I realized my misinterpretation of what it means to be content.

Often when we ask God to make us content, we think in terms of what we want. We have this mirage of happiness – marriage, children, white-picket-fence lifestyle, a career, or wealth – whatever it may be, we have it dangling in front of us as we run around in circles trying to attain this idea of happiness.

We say, “God, please make me content in waiting for this or for that. Make me content and patient to wait on You.”

But what are we really saying?

Our contentment is based on that idea – that ‘ideal, perfect life’ that we have pictured for our future, and yet we wonder why our sense of contentment falters in the face of change…

We are asking God to make us content on our terms, and according to Paul, that’s just not how it works my friend.

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

Contentment is not found in waiting for what we hope will be.

Contentment comes when we find fulfillment in what we know to be true today; right here, right now. Today.

So we ask ourselves, “What am I absolutely certain of in this moment? What are the truths that I can hold onto right now?” Consider the following…

**This is an excerpt from my prayer journal on June 14, 2017 –

Help me to be content in the only things I know for sure:

  1. You are good;
  2. You are faithful;
  3. My purpose is to glorify Your Name;
  4. Today I am alive;
  5. Tomorrow I do not know.

This we know to be true.

Each of these statements are unchanging, never-ending, and ever-present in each moment of our lives.

These truths are consistent in all circumstances. You will never find yourself in a situation where any one of these is not true.

Therefore, if your faith and contentment is found and nurtured on these consistent truths, then believe it or not, you will have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

This we know, and it is in this that we find true contentment.

This Mountain in Front of Me

This mountain in front of me

A fear, a sorrow, an internal game

Ever growing in greatness and degree

Every day it’s all the same

 

I struggle, I climb, I slip, and I cry

Everything I do bringing me closer to reprise

The smile on my face is just a lie

This too will become my demise

 

I fight to find the prayer oh so deep

The truths of knowledge so far from the heart

My faith in Him I desire to keep

From the love of my Savior I do not wish to part

 

I pray, “God, can you please move this mountain?”

And frantically read of a mustard seed

The thoughts “if only…if only…” through my head they ran

Faith oh so small is all I would need

 

But the mountain is still there God

Why is it still there?

The questioning begins – “Do I not have faith?” “Am I a fraud?”

Either that or He is just not fair

 

“Don’t go there,” I say

Oh, but I can’t

Don’t believe those traps the dark one lay

Don’t trust the lies he is sure to plant

 

My God is more

He is more than the mess I’m in

My body may be poor

But Abundance flows from within

 

My God can do more than move this mountain

He is more than the devil’s scheme

I will put my trust in the life-giving Fountain

If only to see His glory gleam

 

My God can do more than move this mountain

His power knows no end

He knows the names of stars by the thousand

And I know my heart He will defend

 

To see the powerful glory of God Almighty

I will calm my heart and bid it still

This mountain is oh so tiny

In light of His perfect and glorious will

 

Be it mountain, valley, or ocean

In His loving hands my future I see

His glory is my soul’s devotion

Even with this mountain in front of me

She Speaks to Inspire

As I swept the crumbs off my dress and finished my last bite of cake, the best man at my dear friend’s wedding stood up to give his toast.

I had known this friend since my early teen years. Unbeknownst to her, she had inspired me in so many ways to be the best woman I could; seeking God with everything I had and living each day with grace and purpose.

She’s the closest thing I have to a big sister and I have always loved her for that.

She’s naturally a pretty quiet person though and as the best man recalled their first introduction, he recounted how he was oddly suspicious, wondering why she spoke so sparingly.

What he said next took me by surprise but I’ve held onto it ever since –

“I [the best man] realized that she didn’t speak not because she had something to hide, but rather because she had nothing to say. She has such a quiet confidence and wisdom about her that she only speaks to inspire (paraphrased).

Even today I find myself remembering this friend and the influence she continues to have on my life, praying that God would grant me the same inner confidence and wisdom as her.

We have the power to speak life into people.

Did you know that?

Sometimes it doesn’t even have to involve words. A simple smile could be the spark that ignites a renewed hope in the depths of a dried soul.

That happened to me once. In fact, it was this same friend who was my first summer Bible Camp counselor. I remember watching her one time, thinking how cool she was and how much I wanted to be just like her when suddenly, she glanced my way and smiled at me.

That changed me.

As a 13-year old, it meant the world that someone I admired actually took notice of me; actually saw me for who I was, and liked me for it.

A simple smile changed that ornery little 13-year old girl then and still causes joy to swell in my heart ten years later.

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart…(Prov. 15:30) and a person’s words can be life-giving water…(Prov. 18:4).

Just as the genuine smile and gentle words of this friend inspired many, so too can the mocking glance, disingenuous conversation, and harsh word cause destruction.

I’ve been hurt by words. Even more so, I’ve been hurt by the lack of words.

I also know that I have hurt others with my words and harsh reactions.

Speaking words of hope and life into someone is so easy to do, and more often than not, those words will never be forgotten. Same goes for a harsh, mocking word – so easy to spit out but severely detrimental and almost impossible to forget.

Imagine though what might happen if we took one day – 24 hours – and dedicated everything we said and did to the purpose of inspiring others; to pointing others to the love of Jesus Christ.

To say something uplifting when a mocking remark is more natural.

To speak truth when lies are easier.

To be genuine when sarcasm might get more laughs.

To smile when disapproval seems necessary.

To remain silent even when the world beckons us to speak.

There is unfading beauty in a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4).

This kind of spirit is not natural. In fact, it is very unnatural. That’s why when someone like my friend exhibits this kind of gentle and quiet behavior every day, it is not easily forgotten and is cherished by all those who know her.

I read an article by Jon Bloom the other day that delineated the difference between a ‘presently preoccupied’ mindset and that of an ‘eternally focused’ one.

A presently preoccupied focus – Do, Have, Be – I do ‘this’ to have ‘that’ in order to be ‘this.’

However, an eternally focused approach would be just the opposite – Be, Do, Have – I am ‘this’ so I do ‘that’ which results in me having ‘this.’

In order for us to respond to people with gentleness in our voice and a smile on our face, we must first remember who we are.

Something I like to do in my time with God – and I encourage you to try this sometime – is take a piece of Scripture that reminds us of who we are in Christ and make it personal. I’ll give you an example:

Deuteronomy 7:6 –

For you, *insert name,* are holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you, yes you *insert name,* out of everyone on the face of the earth to be his treasured possession.

This is who you are!

You are a treasured possession.

Doesn’t that just make you feel awesome on the inside!?

Does it not just instantly calm your spirit; perhaps cause everything that you’re fighting to be and to achieve grow dim in light of this beautiful truth?

What are you trying to be friend? Where do you feel you aren’t measuring up?

Believe it or not, in the eyes of God Almighty, you are enough. You are holy and you are treasured above all the nations in the arms of God.

So take a second, remember who you are, and allow that to seep into your soul, because a heart that knows it is treasured by the most loving God will naturally speak life because it has life.

Harsh words come from a disrupted spirit. However, a spirit confident in who he or she is in Christ will be calm and gentle, overflowing with words that speak wisdom and inspire for years to come.

People remember kind words.

They remember a genuine smile.

I remember my friend and she continues to change my life even today though we are miles apart because she speaks to inspire.